One of the most interesting battleship books that I have encountered recently, is Robert Ballard's Bismarck:
My favourite chapter is - First Blood. This chapter covers the details of the Battle of the Denmark Strait - yes it is about the sinking of HMS Hood, but it also considers the aftermath of the battle (such as the damage that had been done to the Bismarck - especially towards her bow). There are some chilling first hand descriptions of the explosions on-board HMS Hood (as viewed from both the Bismarck, and Prince of Wales) together with some details on how Hood's three survivors survived. After reading this chapter, it's a miracle that there were any survivors at all: one jumped overboard (but got entangled in aerial wires as Hood sunk), another (Ted Briggs) escaped the compass platform/bridge (but was soon dragged under with the pull of the ship) the third was essentially washed through a window - from the highest point on the ship (the spotting top). Contrasted with this, are the thoughts of the Germans on-board Bismarck: which seem to have been at first astonishment, followed quickly by disbelief, followed quickly by transfixing (an inability to act), followed later by thoughts of impending doom - when it became apparent that the British intended to sink the Bismarck at all costs. My second favourite chapter is - Bismarck, Then and Now. I have always enjoyed looking at pictures of battleships - and this chapter has more than enough, but with a unique twist: as it compares black and white photos of the past (from previous voyages), together with basic photos of the wreck. I use the term basic photos, because at the time of the dive on the Bismarck (1989), the ability to both photograph and video underwater wrecks was in its infancy (at least by today's standards). Thus, the underwater wreck photos are somewhat on the smaller side/grainy (although not all), but I found that this mattered little - as I found them sufficiently spooky (especially when combined with the artists impressions of the overall wreck of the Bismarck). If you were to ask me, what my favourite diagram is within the book, then I would say that it is the diagram that explains/shows how the Bismarck sunk. It clearly shows that she rolled over, with her four 15 inch gun turrets falling out, as she descended rapidly towards the sea bed. Yet it is here, that an oddity occurred - for the Bismarck righted herself on her way to the bottom, before eventually slamming into the side of an extinct underwater volcano, and preceding to slide down it's side. My other favourite diagrams are the Bismarck's starboard profile, interior profile (showing key armour locations) and an overhead view - as they are also compared to original black and white photographs of the day. Overall: this is a highly detailed book, that provides a tonne of information on the battle (and it's aftermath), together with a great many pictures of the Bismarck (both past and present) which is mixed in within the Hunt for the Bismarck (aka the search to find the wreck).
At first glance, the most prominent feature of this book (on HMS Hood) - is the fact that it was written, within just a few years of HMS Hood, having been lost:
Initially, I felt somewhat apprehensive - as haven been written in 1959, how good could it be? Well ... Whilst it took me a chapter or two, to get into the text, I was so pleased that I did :) For one simple reason: this book on the Mighty Hood, contains a wealth of information, that you just don't find, in other (more modern) Battleship books. A clue lies in the book's subtitle: The Life and Death of the Royal Navy's Proudest Ship. And it is Hood's Life, that the book primarily concentrates on ... And of this Life, is Hood's Empire/World Cruise, one of the most important parts of the book. For it is here, that I started to feel, just something of the values of the Men, and of the importance of Routine (to the men that served on her) ... For a Sailor learns the Ways of the Sea: where to polish, where to knot, where to stand, where to tuck, where to box, where to train - but not after Rum! For a sailor endures the Trails of the Sea: in the sweats of the Tropic, in the freeze of the Arctic, in the storms of the Pacific, in the fogs of the Vikings, in the cheers of the Empire, in the demands of the Bow. As practice makes perfect - and all is not quite :) For a Warship is Alive: foot-steps in her corridors, meals in her galleys, lights in her decks, breathes in her hull, study in her gauges, commands in her Bridge. For a Warship, is the Heart and Soul of her Crew :) And yet, is there no accounting for luck ... As when Hood's fatal blow was struck, did all of it end: her lights and sounds were no more - just silence. The book's handling of this fate, was just as sudden - which left me with a feeling of, how can this be? How can a warship that sailed around the World, be lost in a matter of seconds? How can a warship that was a Legend the World over, suffer such an instant demise? Well ... We shall never know for sure - although the book does hint, at flaws in her design (especially the thinness of her deck armour, compounded by the stresses of her long hull form). In any case, I found several surprises within this book ... First: Was the level of competitiveness, that existed between the sailors of Destroyers/Cruisers, and the sailors of Capital Ships (such as HMS Hood). Destroyer men, seemed to feel that Capital Ships (such as HMS Hood), could not look after themselves - and did not want to be outdone (especially in terms of seamanship), by the crews of Capital Ships (that to them, almost never put to sea!). It is with some irony then, that such Destroyer/Cruiser men, longed to serve on-board HMS Hood :) Second: Was the level of luck encountered (or lack of it!), on the day of Hood's loss, by her Commander - Vice Admiral Lancelot Holland. For all intents and purposes, decisions that Holland took on the day, all appeared to be logical and correct (as of a wise and talented commander) - but without one key ingredient, luck of any kind! An example would be, when he sent his accompanying Destroyers, further North (to seek the Bismarck), only to stumble upon the Bismarck himself (well away from his Destroyers). The irony is, that at every decision he took (even those that were based upon, sound naval value) - luck simply conferred, his advantage away. For example: He had more heavy calibre Naval Guns (eight 15 inch and ten 14 inch), but his manoeuvrers during the night (whilst seeking the Bismarck), meant that he lost much of his Angle of Approach advantage - and as such, could only bring his forward naval guns to bear (four 15 inch from Hood, six 14 inch from Prince of Wales). Third: was the order, in which HMS Hood fired her guns (one barrel from each turret fired, followed by the other barrel, alternating for continuous fire). It's the first time that I'd read, such a specific fact like this, which I feel is a forgotten fact - from the time that this book was written ... Added to this, did I also find another forgotten fact - the fact that Hood, was not a new ship: she had been heavily used, throughout the oceans of the World, and her boilers plus turbines, were no longer capable of propelling her, at her design speed (of over thirty knots). Thus, it may appear obvious, that she was in need of a service - but I'd not thought about this requirement before (preferring instead, to ponder upon, her potential redesign). Overall: this book contrasts the Life of HMS Hood, against the Loss of HMS Hood. Her life was long, for a warship (around twenty-five years). She'd navigated the World. She was known to most (if not all) of the British Empire. She was known to the VIPs (such as Kings and Queens). She was known to the Children (that in peacetime, had both danced and played - upon her decks). She was known to the Sailors (both those that served on her, and those that wanted to). She was Alive - but she was still a warship. Her guns, that had been primarily used in training, were now for war. She was a Legend (known to all), that bore an Achilles Heel (known to few). Her men knew the calibre of her steel, the power of her guns, and the meaning of her flags. For they served a way of Life, that now no longer exists ... Silence: for those that know the Sea, may never walk upon the Land again - our Mighty Hood.
Analysis Three - Death and Inquest. The fact that HMS Hood was heavily used meant that she never received the overhaul that she so desperately needed:
It's true to say that she was modified (e.g. for better air defence), and that she was overhauled/serviced as required (e.g. to maintain the efficiency of her boilers and her top speed). BUT, what was really required was a complete gutting of the ship, with the addition of thicker deck armour - permitted by the saving in weight gained from fitting new machinery (e.g. smaller boilers and turbines), and perhaps the removal of the entire front conning tower's spotting top (again to save weight). Unfortunately, this never happened. Thus, would one more Atlantic sortie - prove to be her demise! It is here that the book helps recreate some of the events of that particular day - as by all accounts, the crew of HMS Hood viewed their final voyage as just another routine patrol. When reading this chapter, did I feel that the Author played right into this part - as he has presented the tale straight to the point: Hood was gone, and in less than three minutes! With the build-up of the preceding chapters, did I feel shocked (even though I knew what happened anyway). I also found the contrast between this book's two inquests to be something of a shock. Whilst the first inquest (into why Hood was lost) was ridiculed as being too quick and not having looked at all the facts - it is surprising that the second inquest (which looked at all the facts or at least many more) concluded the same as the first: that Hood was lost because of insufficient armour thickness (to guard against plunging shellfire), which allowed a large calibre shell to explode inside the hull-form, which in-turn, caused the explosion of a primary magazine. It is only with the recent underwater expeditions (to look at her shipwreck) that the first conclusive evidence has been found that this is (at least a part of) exactly what happened. Not only that though, as from the state of the wreck (as mentioned in the book) - it appears that there was also a second explosion (in the forward parts of the ship) which when taken together, explain why so few of Hood's crew survived. Overall: a very good book, that I feel - tells the whole story of HMS Hood (both peacetime and wartime). When she sunk, it was not only the men on-board that died - but also (for a time) the spirit of the entire British Empire.
Something of a first for me - as I actually read this Battleship Book from cover to cover within a day and a half:
It helped that the book is on HMS Hood. It helped that the book is a good read. It helped that the book is packed full of so much information, that those pages just kept turning! I feel that this book really comes in three parts (although it's spread across six chapters): Genesis and Design, Peace and War, Death and Inquest. I shall now consider each of these in turn. Analysis One - Genesis and Design. HMS Hood was born from the Battleship race - specifically the need for speed (at the expense of armoured protection) that gave rise to the Battlecruiser concept. This book goes to great lengths to highlight the fact that HMS Hood was originally designed as a Battlecruiser (e.g. through it's use of design tables), and that on the very day that she was laid down (31 May 1916), that all work was suspended - owing to the Battle of Jutland, which had seen three such earlier Battlecruisers blown apart (after suffering magazine explosions caused through plunging shellfire). In all three cases, was the level of horizontal armour protection called into question. It is here that HMS Hood was transformed into something more akin to a Fast Battleship, as her deck armour was gradually increased (e.g. from 1.5 inches, to between 2-1 inches, to between 3-1 inches - the thicker armour was used closer to Hood's magazines). This book not only considers these developments, but also explains Hood's anti-torpedo protection, machinery (such as the Brown Curtis turbines and Yarrow oil-fired boilers), primary armament (including elevation increase), secondary armament (such as why it was not case-mated) and fire control (of primary, secondary and anti-aircraft guns). Analysis Two - Peace and War. HMS Hood was commissioned into the Royal Navy on 15 May 1920. World War Two started on 1 September 1939. This meant that HMS Hood spent most of her life as a Peacetime Warship of (just over) 19 years! The Peacetime chapter shows very clearly how the reputation of The Mighty Hood was earned, especially in the eyes of the public, who (even now) I feel, would be in awe of this stunning warship (if she sailed into port today). Much of this reputation was earned during the famous World Cruise (which saw HMS Hood travel over thirty-three thousand miles to bolster Britain's relationship with it's Empire). Even so, it is important to remember that HMS Hood was still a warship - which meant that her crew participated in regular gunnery exercises (by herself or with other vessels), as she sailed between the various ports of her World Cruise. Thus, when War broke out - was HMS hood (and her crew) available to participate in front line duties. Some of this was to become routine, such as: i) The various skirmishes into the Atlantic to intercept perceived threats (e.g. preventing the break out of smaller German warships). ii) Convoy duty (e.g. helping to protect Iron Ore en-route from Norway to Britain, and helping to protect the transport of troops from Canada to Britain). Some of this was absurd - such as when HMS Hood (and other British warships) were ordered to sink the entire French Naval Fleet at Mers-el-Kbir (North Africa). Whilst I understand the reasons behind this attack (fear of the French fleet falling into German hands), it seems totally crazy that allies would attack each other like this (when they should only have been concerned with defeating Germany). In any case, the book makes one point very clear (both through text and images) that Hood was heavily used both up-to, and during the early stages of World War Two, and as such - the usual polished ship-shape decks were soon covered with the grime of war.
The third book on battleships that I have read, is Battleships - The Ultimate Guide to the World's Greatest Battleships:
The first fact I noticed about this book, is that it takes a different format ... Battleships are not presented country-by-country, they are instead broken down based upon their chronological classification: The Pre-Dreadnought Era, Dreadnought, The First World War, The Treaty Battleships, The Second World War, and the End of the Line (aka the swansong). Amazingly, this approach seems to work quite well! Another difference is the fact that this book is much more reading based - and yet, the book still manages to be crammed full of many high-quality battleship photographs :) You may think that the Pre-Dreadnought Era could be quite boring - but not at all ... I'm amazed that the Royal Navy built a fourteen thousand tonne, Royal Sovereign class battleship (called HMS Hood) in circa 1889. That fact made me wonder how many battleship classes, and battleship names have been re-used throughout naval history (as those of you who enjoy reading about battleships - shall be aware that the Royal Navy, also had a 1913 Royal Sovereign battleship class, and a later/better edition HMS Hood). My favourite chapters are The Treaty Battleships, and The Second World War - for one simple reason: battleships were clearly becoming larger and more powerful (despite the so called Washington Treaty). The book features one of the best descriptions of The Washington Treaty (and related) that I have ever read: an attempt to limit the expense of battleship building programs, by con-straining the amount of battleships each nation could have, together with the size and power of future battleships ... For me, the aim of such treaties, is no more clearly illustrated, than by the book's coverage, of the Royal Navy's Nelson class. As this book's stunning photos of HMS Nelson, only serves to highlight the fact, that Nelson had all three triple sixteen inch gun turrets mounted forwards, of the main superstructure - in a bid to save weight. Even so, this book helped me realise, that there was an unexpected side effect of such treaties: that there was nothing to stop the World's navies, improving/modernising existing battleships! This was especially true of Japan, who with an eye to future war, pretty much modernised her entire fleet - especially with regard to speed and protection. In doing so, such nations hotted up the battleship building programs again, ensuring that as World War Two broke out, most battleships would be true behemoths (the like of which had not been seen before!). I feel that this book, covers all of this in great detail, which is why it can be hard to put down :) Added to this, is the fact that the book goes one stage further, as it includes specific battleship technology sections ... Of these, my favourites are: armour protection (as I enjoyed reading about the evolution of battleship armour, especially that it's all wood backed!), inside a gun turret/naval gun (as it helped to make me aware, of the tasks undertaken by gun crews) and anti-aircraft defences (as it helped me realise, that later battleships featured three levels of such defences - long range for bombers, medium range for torpedo bombers, and short range for fighters that got through, including kamikaze). Overall: I found this book to be an amazing merger of battleship fact, battleship story/spirit, battleship history/war, and battleship photographs. Of these, there's one particular photograph (that for me), captures the Heart and Soul, of a battleship and her crew (more than any other): the USS North Carolina, as she steams to war ... (ISBN-13: 978-0857342577)
The second book on battleships that I have read, is Conway's Battleships: The Definitive Visual Reference to the World's All-big-gun Ships:
After reading the introduction of this book, I decided upon one simple stance: I was hooked! The introduction covers an amazing amount of topics: battleships before 1900, fire control, Dreadnought, armour, World War One, the Washington Treaty and World War Two. The introduction also features some stunning photographs ... My favourite is that of the USS Wisconsin - which immediately puts the size of triple 16 inch naval gun turrets into perspective. Another eye opening photograph is the rotating upright of the USS Oklahoma (fifteen months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour) as I had no idea that the American's possessed such salvage equipment. Its another book that lays out battleships country-by-country, and class-by-class, with each entry typically featuring four components: a profile line drawing, a statistics box, lengthy descriptive text, and decent photographs (and/or art). I first read this book in 2011, and still find it's content - to be of interesting value :) Its another navy book, where you cant help but notice, the shear number of entries that both Great Britain, and it's Royal Navy has ... I think its fair to say, that the entries for Great Britain, best illustrate the rise of battleship technology: earlier units featuring anti-torpedo nets and booms, earlier units featuring the loading of coal (as opposed to oil fuel), earlier units featuring bi-planes (on their primary gun turrets), earlier units with wrong lessons learned (the entire battle-cruiser concept!), middle units with the emergence of the first modern battleships (the Queen Elizabeth class), all units the race for bigger naval guns (12 inch, 13.5 inch, 14 inch, 15 inch, 16 inch and 18 inch), later units the quest for speed (especially the Royal Navy's Renown and Hood classes) and finally: later units featuring thicker armour and better armour disposition (with lessons learned from wartime experience). My other favourite country's battleships (within the book), is of course the United States, and it's US Navy ... As such, one important fact is immediately apparent, about earlier American battleships: their reliance on lattice masts. Whilst I understand why the Americans opted for lattice masts (weight saving and supposed better protection from blast shock-waves), I'm so glad that they eventually made the switch to (more conventional) tripod masts! My three favourite American battleship classes (within this book) are: North Carolina (with USS Washington at speed), South Dakota (with USS Massachusetts' secondary armament all aimed skywards) and Iowa (with USS Missouri in memorial at Pearl Harbour). All three entries feature text, that just keeps you turning those pages :) Overall: an amazing battleship book, that both features informative text (although there are some errors), together with stunning photographs (especially for later battleships - such as the Iowa class). And it is here, that I realised which of the book's photographs, is indeed my all-time favourite, battleship photo (thus far): the crew of the USS Missouri, on a particular VJ Day anniversary (which really serves to illustrate, both the size and the power, of an American triple 16 inch naval gun turret!).
The first book on battleships that I ever read, was Jane's Battleships of the 20th Century:
I was first struck by the quality of this book, especially the quality of the battleship artwork: being hand-drawn, coloured and (usually) of the right-hand-side of the vessel, I have found the drawings to be suitable fuel for my battleship interest :) The larger drawings span two pages, and are crammed full of details - including battleship conning towers, primary and secondary armament arrangement, camouflage schemes, and plenty of smaller features (such as life-rafts and lifeboats). I like the fact that the battleships are laid out country-by-country, and class-by-class, allowing me to quickly lookup a specific entry. I also like the fact that each class of battleship, is presented combined, with descriptive text, and suitable photographs. A further twist, is the fact that the drawings/text, are not only for battleships that were actually made, but are also for several battleship design studies - with my personal favourite, being the post Yamato class (Japanese) battleships. When it comes to the battleship drawings/write-ups, one of the most interesting countries is the United Kingdom. From the shear number of entries, you can see why the British Royal Navy used to be so powerful ... Although you can also see the reasons why, they lost out eventually - to the industrial might of the United States. Some of my favourite battleship classes (within this book) are: the Bismarck (I like her thick armoured hull), the Vittorio Veneto (I like her turret layout and camouflage scheme), the Nagato (I like her uniqueness, power and layout), the Yamato (I like her massive imposing presence), the Queen Elizabeth (I like the idea of them as the bastions of the Royal Navy), the Hood (I like the idea of the Pride of the Royal Navy), the South Dakota (I like their citadel layout, plus triple 16 inch naval guns!) and the Iowa (I like their subscription to the battleship maximum speed - less armour, less firepower principal). I also found the books text to be quite informative, although there are some errors! For example: there's one particular photograph, showing some of the aftermath of Pearl Harbour, that actually has an incorrect caption (and initially caused me some head-scratching). Even so, there's an incredible amount of battleship facts, history and information - contained within this book, and I especially like the way, that topic specific articles, are dropped in. Of these, there's three that I particularly enjoyed reading about ... First: The Sinking of the Utah. I had not realised before, that Utah had been modified to be a radio-controlled target ship (a side effect of the Washington Treaty). As such, she was in no fit state to defend herself - when she came under fire, at Pearl Harbour. Second: Amphibious Assault. The older battleships (such as USS Texas), could not keep up with the US aircraft carrier fleets - but their big guns were highly suitable for bombarding beaches (and other land-based fortifications). As such, I liked the fact that such battleships, were modified to work in-conjunction with the Marines (who helped to direct their ordinance, from land based positions). Third: Night Battles off Guadalcanal. Unintentional perhaps, but the USS South Dakota lost power, in the middle of one particular battle! I was amazed that this could happen to a US battleship, but it seems that the US Navy, learnt a great many lessons from this experience (such that an over-reliance on technology - that when knocked out, left key personnel, unable to perform their duties: of maintaining an operational, manoeuvrable, gun platform). Overall: this is my favourite battleship book :) I have spent many an evening just flicking through, and I often pick random pages - just to read them.